Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Best of Times

I bought an iMic Griffin off Ebay the other day. As I was leaving the apartment this morning I passed the Postlieferin on the stairs; she had a package for me; it was my iMic Griffin! The first thrill was soon alloyed with exasperation and nostalgia.

An iMic Griffin is a device that enables you to transfer recordings on vinyl or cassette to a Mac or PC -- they can then be saved in iTunes or burned to CD. I have quite a lot of audiotapes of Arabic books I would be likelier to listen to if they were not on cassettes; I have a recording of Eliot reading selected poems on cassette, I have a Radioscopie interview of Barthes by Jacques Chancel; I've been wanting to do something about this for years. And now here is the iMic.

There's one slight problem, which is that to connect a turntable or cassette player to the iMic you need a cable. Not only is this not included, there's nothing in either the documentation or the online support to tell the technically retarded buyer what sort of cable is required.

FAQ: How Do I Record From LPs Onto My PC in Plain English?

A: First connect your device (let's say it's a turntable) to the input of the iMic.

Once connected to the "IN" on the iMic, you will flip the switch on the iMic to "line" if you're using a line-out of your receiver (that would be the red and white RCA type connectors) or "mic" if you're using the output of the turntable. Plug the iMic into a USB port on your computer. "Mic" mode engages the iMic's internal preamp, which you'll probably need to boost the signal of the turntable.

And much much more, but the Q, And just how to I connect my device to the input of the iMic, whether in Plain English, Fancy English or Swahili? while undoubtedly FA, is nowhere to be seen. This is a job for the Automathilfe -- except there IS no Automathilfe. I go to Conrad's with my iMic and cassette player, explain that I need a cable to connect them, am shown a cable with two male plugs, and all is well. (I write having transferred Side C of Munther A. Younes' Tales from Kalila wa Dimna, Yale University Press 1998, to iTunes. It can be done.)

My guess is that quite a lot of people using turntables would know the sort of input cable they needed without being told -- but the sort of person who needs everything explained in Plain English is likely to need more handholding. The sort of person who has cassettes, anyway, can probably remember the days when electrically powered windows in cars were exciting. (When Jonathan Lethem interviewed Paul Auster for The Believer he asked how much technology one should mention in fiction, and Auster thought it was stretching a point to include mobile phones. My guess is that Auster doesn't have Naguib Mahfouz's Khan al-Kalily on cassette and is not kicking himself for not having made better progress and so is not asking himself whether getting Mahfouz into iTunes would make a difference, but if he did no one could say that Griffin Technology was meeting him halfway.)

The reason this made me nostalgic, anyway, is that it reminded me of my first year at Oxford. I went up to Oxford to read Literae Humaniores in 1979. Britain has a higher voltage than the US (230V rather than 120), which means it is possible to heat water quickly in an electric kettle; one of the first things any undergraduate does on going to university is buy an electric kettle. So I went into the Woolworth's in Cornmarket, bought an electric kettle, took it back to my college and took it out of the box -- only to find a cord ending in three wires where an American expects to find a plug.

Yes. In Britain, in those far-off days, electrical appliances could not be sold with a prefitted plug. The buyer had to buy the plug separately (making sure it had the right number of amps). The buyer ALSO had to buy a tiny screwdriver. The back of the plug had to be unscrewed, tiny screws inside had to be loosened, coloured wires threaded under the appropriate screws, the screws retightened, the back of the plug screwed back on, and an hour or so later the novice electrician was either sitting down to a nice hot cup of ground cockroach or frying on the floor. It's said that electrical fires were a common source of death.

Once you got the electric kettle up and running, of course, you appreciated it in a way that you wouldn't if you hadn't had to work for it. On the one hand, just switching it on was a source of pride; on the other hand, you always wondered if it was about to blow up. You didn't take it for granted; just drinking instant coffee, prepared with a kettle with owner-installed plug, put you one up on all the pampered American consumers at Harvard and Yale. Not ONLY were you in a place where you would read the whole of Homer in Greek, the whole of Virgil in Latin, but you could ALSO do electrical wiring! Self-taught! And you were in a strange, quaint country whose entire population, you suddenly realised, was an inexhaustible market for tiny screwdrivers. (You saw at once, of course, that the tiny screwdriver was destined to be lost; a British household with an assortment of lamps, kettles, radios and so on probably had at least 5 tiny screwdrivers on the premises. The average American household had none.)

Well, the British market for tiny screwdrivers has gone through the floor, because you can now buy a Rowenta kettle in the iMac palette with the plug unimaginatively attached to the end of the cord. Accidents arising from classicists absentmindedly threading the earth wire through the wrong hole are pretty much a thing of the past. So, unfortunately, is the quaint oldfashioned spectacle of classics undergraduates reading the whole of Homer and Virgil.

Blair is out, Brown is in. He's said to be keen on education. Not so keen, I'll bet, as to restore the full maintenance grant which was phased out by Thatcher, Major and Blair and replaced with student loans and top-up fees.

Years later, when I'd been in the country for years and had a B.A., a D.Phil. and about 20 tiny screwdrivers to show for it, one of my graduate supervisors talked about a sabbatical he'd taken at Stanford. Russell said the graduate students spent their first two years doing the sort of thing we did in the first half of the undergraduate course: reading their way through very large numbers of texts. The Oxford system depended on a method of student funding that enabled students to spend vacations on an ambitious programme of independent reading; once the funding was gone, once vacation jobs were the norm and the syllabus was cut down to what could be covered in term, the thing that had made it worth studying in the Land of the Tiny Screwdriver disappeared.

The iMic Griffin does not have the glamour of Proust's madeleine, but it did bring lost time briefly back. The mood is not good.

Looking on the bright side, I can now transfer my cassette of Barthes interviewed by Jacques Chancel to iTunes. (I know it's here somewhere.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Herr T-Com Kam

No more checking e-mails on a laptop just out of sight of Yorckschlößchen. No more camping all day on the sofa by the electrical socket. No more running up bills, one Milchkaffee after another, an Apfelschorle, a Jever, danke danke danke.

The doorbell rang. Unbelievably, it was der Mann. The man from Telecom. He came upstairs; he came into an apartment of unspeakable squalor; he went to the jack; he went to another jack; he went upstairs; he came back; he did something, I know not what. And now there is a telephone connection, and DSL connection. We shook hands, I speechless with gratitude.

This is what I should have done with my life, no question. Made people happy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Splitting the bill revisited

My late mother-in-law's highly numerate son comments:

Where I had doubts about your argument was with your suggestion that numeracy or innumeracy is the primary factor leading people to choose between splitting the bill evenly and totalling each individual's meal. In my experience the main reason for not making each person pay for himself is the difficulty of identifying securely what each person has eaten or (even harder) drunk, especially at a large table. It can be done, but only by one person spending the whole meal keeping an eye on everyone else and/or being prepared to engage in painful arguments, and I suspect that mathematicians are no readier for this than the rest of us.

My own solution, as I may have told you, [no, and left to my own devices I grossly underestimated the degree of complexity involved in achieving a fair solution] is to divide the final bill up by categories - hors d'oeuvres, main course, dessert, wine, coffee and so on (adding an appropriate percentage in each case for tips). I then divide each category by the number of people who had something under that heading. So if 8 of the 10 had hors d'oeuvres, I divide the hors d'oeuvres on the bill by 8 and share it between them; if 6 had drunk wine I divide the cost of the wine by 6 and share it, and so on. I then arrrive at a final reckoning for each individual on that basis. This means that a high measure of fairness is maintained, with everyone paying in rough proportion to what they ate and drank, without my having to remember who exactly had had the sole and who confined themselves to the pasta or whatever.

Of course, this did require me to be numerate (perhaps more so than totting up individual bills would have done?) ...

[a pity the economists responsible for the original article did not consult a numerate restaurant-going classicist before embarking on research, one may feel -- and all the more scope for an unscrupulous NRGC to impose on his less numerate colleagues, one may also feel]


A couple of months ago (22.04.07) I was supposed to meet Johanna Thompson and Tod Wodicka (author of forthcoming All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well) at Yorckschlößchen for a beer. About three hours before the meeting my throat started seizing up and by the time we were supposed to meet my lungs had started seizing up and it was painful to breathe. I called Johanna on her mobile. I had no idea where to go, though it did seem stupid to die on the floor (as well as rude to die without telling people who expected to be meeting me for a beer).

Johanna came to my apartment. I tottered downstairs. She said we could go to the emergency ward of Charité, a hospital in Mitte. We stopped by Y'n to explain the crisis to Tod, who gave me a proof copy of his book. Johanna had her bicycle with her, so at first she thought we should take the U-Bahn -- but as we approached the Mehringdamm station I saw a big taxi/van and hailed it. Off we went.

Johanna saw me through admission. It seemed the tests would take a long time. She went home, I hung about in the waiting room, breathing with difficulty, drinking hot chocolates with extra sugar from a vending machine, reading Tod's Lynchean All Shall Be Well... Blood samples were taken, an X-ray was taken, questions were asked about allergies. I said I did not know of any other than penicillin, but I had eaten some peanut butter earlier in the day -- I used to eat it a lot but hadn't had it for 10 years or so, maybe an allergy had developed. Hours passed while the blood samples were analysed, the X-rays examined. Someone came in a white coat, took me back to the ward. I was given injections of steroids to counteract what he thought was an allergic reaction; I was given other injections. I went home, throat and lungs still in agony with every breath; a day or so passed, it went away.

Now a bill has come from Charité. Only an American, I think, can really appreciate the way I have spent the last two months trying not to think of how much this might cost. It's complicated to get health insurance; my normal practice, if I need to see someone, is to take Ryanair or Easyjet back to Britain and see my GP in Tower Hamlets. My normal practice, that's to say, is to lie in bed staring at the wall, fortifying myself with ginger tea, waiting for it to blow over, with the idea that if it gets too bad I can always nip over to London on Ryanair or Easyjet -- anything easier than tackling German bureaucracy. Thinking of American hospital bills I have seen I feared the worst.

243,87 Euros. About $320.

I don't know what I would do if I had NO MONEY AT ALL. And my guess is a lot of people have no health insurance, not because they can't deal with German bureaucracy but because they have NO MONEY AT ALL. So if you have NO MONEY AT ALL poor old Britain, with its crumbling National Health Service, is the place to be. But anyone who has seen what an American hospital can do with an uninsured patient about to die will be --

will be saying $320! $320!!!! $320!!!!!!!!! Is that ALLLLLLLLL? (Knowing an American hospital would have INSISTED on admitting the patient, and then charged the patent an extra grand for the night in its bed.)

The address of Charité is Hindenburgdamm 30.

(If this were a Wordpress blog I could put this crucial piece of information on a Page instead of in a Post, so it would be permanently available -- one more reason Wordpress is starting to look very good.)

Splitting the bill

Freakonomics had a link to an article by Uri Gneezy, Erman Haruvy and Hadas Yafe on The inefficiency of splitting the bill. Abstract:

When agents are ascribed selfish motives, economic theory points to grave inefficiencies resulting from externalities. We study a restaurant setting in which groups of diners are faced with different ways of paying the bill. The two main manipulations are splitting the bill between the diners and having each pay individually. We find that subjects consume more when the cost is split, resulting in a substantial loss of efficiency. Diners prefer the individual pay to the inefficient split-bill method. When forced to play according to a less preferred set of rules, they minimise their individual losses by taking advantage of others.

Interesting. The economists clearly thought it was not worth wasting their time on a GROSSLY irrational agent such as my late mother-in-law, Norma Levene. Norma's practice on going to a restaurant with a group of people was to order lavishly (issuing instructions for large plates of assorted vegetables, the sort of thing not normally offered on the menu), secure in the knowledge that she would not, under any circumstances, permit anyone else at the table to contribute a penny toward its cost.

An implication of the study, I take it, is that the presence or absence of someone perceived by others in the company to be numerate will have a strong effect on ordering habits. A split bill is appealing to those who lack confidence in their ability to perform rapid and accurate arithmetical calculations. If at least one person is present who is capable of performing these calculations, the group is presumably likelier to choose individual bills. (And an unscrupulous mathematician in a group of classicists will presumably order more lavishly than he would if the split bill were being used, confident that the cost can be redistributed unchallenged among his fellow diners.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Classic lines

Was going through my papers. Came across notes from Tarantula, Clint Eastwood's first film, made for the book I was working on before The Last Samurai.

A (looking at bottle of liquid): That's an isotope, isn't it?
B: A radioactive isotope.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out of town

Ingrid wants to do the plaster sculpture at a place called Lietzen. She says there is no Internet access.

I think there are some e-mails I should have answered and couldn't, because the Internet connection at Yorckschlößchen was down and now it is necessary to go to Lietzen. I hope to be back soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More prisons

The sniper writes:

There is a road that used to be open but now is closed called 443.
closed for palestinians that is. There is a unit stationed at a road
block by 443, and all they do is tell every car that comes at the
gate, no, you can't get through, my hands are tied. every car night
and day. A year passed, even two I think, but cars are still trying.
If you have advanced standing you could get your first degree at
harvard while someone else has spent the last three years saying no
you can't get through. but people only care about the civilians.
Meanwhile my friend says that in gaza, it's like when we were kids and
tried to close the lid on a can full of bugs. Everybody is trying to
get out, and they know everything is closed. And I am studying share
point. and wondering why I have friends who use this kind of imagery.
and looking online for ways to make your stomach not have muscles. I
don't think strippers work out. And I don't either, if i have a say in
the matter.

Prisons of the World

Thinking of switching to Wordpress, which lets you split a post: when you think the post is turning into War & Peace or Tristram Shandy or Don Quixote or all three you can insert a Read More tag. Readers who do not share your enthusiasm for W&PTSDQ can skip happily on to the next post.

Wordpress will not let you customise templates. Bastards. BASTARDS. While checking out Wordpress, though, I came across this blog on Prisons of the World. Fabelhaft.


Locked out for 2 days. Camped out at Ingrid's. Went to the Schlüsseldienst in Katzbachstraße at 10; he told me to come back in an hour. Retreated to Yorckschlößchen. Back to SD who drove me to the house in his car (he does this now after the time I confused 1700 hours with 7pm and was not waiting on the doorstep). He cracked the lock. I gave him a 50-Euro note and thanked and thanked and thanked.

SD: Es ist meine Arbeit.

It's my job.

The Schlüsseldienst lives in a tiny pocket of reality where someone who DESPERATELY needs a very simple thing done NOW can actually pay a paltry 50 Euros to get it done by the type of person who sees doing it NOW as his job. Once he has done that simple thing I have a place to stay, my books, my clothes, my papers, a kitchen, a bath. (Still no phone, though, and no Internet access, because there's no one at T-Com or anywhere else who can be paid to fix it NOW.)

I know it's his job; I love the fact that it's his job; I must do something to make sure that he makes much more money out of the job. I must advertise the SD on the sidebar so all English-speakers on the Kreuzberg-Schöneberg border know where to go. Yes.

I go back to Yorckschlößchen, gestresst. It's 11.34 am. I tell Jerry I must have a beer and Walker's crisps, and he says Que? and I point. I walk round the bar to have a better look at the ranks of Walker's crisps hanging from laundry clips. Olav (who owns Y'n) and Katrin are standing by.

I say: (This is all in a series of sentences bearing a family resemblance to German, but never mind that now) Don't you have anything other than Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail? Don't you have Ready Salted?

(I have just had an e-mail from an Israeli sniper who is now being retrained in a one-week crash course in computers, because she has almost finished her National Service and sniping is not seen as a sufficiently transferable skill. She can't think of anything but Gaza. She says she wishes she had been killed on a mountain by another sniper, someone who saw her brown skin against the green. She has a scholarship to Harvard which she has had to postpone for 2 years. While camped out at Ingrid's I have been TRYING to get her to put her ticket to Boston on one of my credit cards so I know the ticket is actually booked and she will go, but she now says she has bought the ticket through her factory and does not have to pay till July 1 and she will probably -- well, she has various ideas for jobs that do not sound like very good ideas. I think she has in fact booked a ticket from Tel Aviv to Newark. We had a correspondence a while back about Your Name Here, which tries to engage the reader with Arabic; she said: Do you really thinking learning Arabic will make people stop killing each other? I assure you you are mistaken. (She does speak Arabic; she has an Iraqi grandmother, who does not want her to waste 4 years on Harvard.) The many readers who acted as guinea pigs for the Arabic puzzles thought they were great. The few publishers who have seen the book are not wildly keen -- though not, as far as I can make out, because sceptical that learning Arabic will make people stop killing each other.)

I say to Olav and Katrin: Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail are the worst flavours of crisp. That's why they are always the last to sell -- nobody likes them.

Olav says: No, actually they're the most popular. When we didn't sell crisps Salt & Vinegar was the flavour everyone asked for. Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail.

I say: Oh.

I say: Well, that's echt Britisch. Salt & Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail. And Marmite. Echt Britisch.

He says: Yes. Very British. What flavour do you like?

I say: Smoky Bacon. Smoky Bacon is the best.

Meanwhile Jerry has been down to the cellar and come back with a packet of Ready Salted crisps.

Salt & Vinegar. Prawn Cocktail. These are the Da Vinci Codes of the world of crisps, crowding out Smoky Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Cheese & Onion and Ready Salted -- flavours that are not sold out because popular, merely kept in the cellar to leave the laundry clips free for the crowdpleasers.

Many many thanks to the readers who have generously made contributions to my PayPal account. For those who are sitting on the fence, remember that a packet of Walker's Smoky Bacon crisps costs 1 Euro. According to OzForex,

PayPal charges 30 cents plus 3% commission, which means that a remote-purchased packet of Smoky Bacon Crisps costs $1.66.

Sending Arabic puzzles out into the world is clearly not my job. Writing a novel with Arabic in it was clearly not my job. Writing September 11 novels without Arabic is clearly the job of quite a lot of writers, since quite a lot of writers (Updike, McInerney, Foer, McEwan, DeLillo) have managed to get paid for it. It's not my job, but I think it's meine Arbeit. My poor head.

If Updike or McInerney or Foer or McEwan or DeLillo had learnt Arabic they would have known how exciting it is to make the first breakthrough into the language. If they had known that they would have wanted to know everyone to know it. So if some earlier writer -- a Borges or a Calvino or a Bowles -- had written fiction that enabled the reader to make that breakthrough, Updike et al. would have made that breakthrough and they would have been different writers from the ones they were. But because no earlier writer had brought out the Smoky Bacon, they themselves were in no position to bring out Smoky Bacon, and so there never has been and never will be a market for Smoky Bacon. Except that when I ask readers to act as guinea pigs on Arabic puzzles they generally get very enthusiastic.

That remote-purchased packet of Smoky Bacon crisps could keep the author sending Arabic puzzles (that Smoky Bacon of the world of books) out into the world when publishers and Israeli snipers were not wildly keen. That remote-purchased PDF of Your Name Here (a bargain at $10) sidesteps the sort of publisher who will only publish Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail. You know it makes sense.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

New Science Fiction

Locked out of the apartment. The Schlüsseldienst is closed because it's Saturday. Hanging out at Yorckschlößchen. Mimi the waitress who once lived in Houston said John Goodman was at the bar. He was. Supertoll.

Came across a blog today with an entry on new science fiction; can't vouch for anything because I am about to head over to the SciFi bookstore on Marheinekeplatz to see if they have anything but meanwhile here's a link to someone better informed.

An excerpt which explains why I am heading for Marheinekeplatz:

Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds is the real deal -- doctorate in astrophysics and former staff scientist at the European Space Agency -- and writes as if Robert Heinlein knew a thousand times more about science and completely lost his ability to write for warm characters. While Reynolds' work is cold and dark -- almost sterile -- in human terms, he operates on a scale and scope seldom seen, and everything he writes is grounded in real advanced theoretical physics. Highly recommended for anyone who likes large-scale space opera and big ideas.

And yet more plagiarism thinly disguised as something or other

Bonus: Vernor Vinge

Vinge, a retired San Diego State Univeristy professor of mathematics and computer science, is one of the most important science fiction authors ever -- with Arthur C. Clarke one of the best forecasters in the world.

First, if you haven't had the pleasure, be sure to read True Names, Vinge's 1981 novella that forecast the modern Internet with shocking clarity. (Ignore the essays, just read the story.) Fans of Gibson and Stephenson will be amazed to see how much more accurately Vinge called it, and before Neuromancer's first page cleared Gibson's manual typewriter. Quoting a reviewer on Amazon:

When I was starting out as a PhD student in Artificial Intelligence at Carnegie Mellon, it was made known to us first-year students that an unofficial but necessary part of our education was to locate and read a copy of an obscure science-fiction novella called True Names. Since you couldn't find it in bookstores, older grad students and professors would directly mail order sets of ten and set up informal lending libraries -- you would go, for example, to Hans Moravec's office, and sign one out from a little cardboard box over in the corner of his office. This was 1983 -- the Internet was a toy reserved for American academics, "virtual reality" was not a popular topic, and the term "cyberpunk" had not been coined. One by one, we all tracked down copies, and all had the tops of our heads blown off by Vinge's incredible book.

True Names remains to this day one of the four or five most seminal science-fiction novels ever written, just in terms of the ideas it presents, and the world it paints. It laid out the ideas that have been subsequently worked over so successfully by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. And it's well written. And it's fun.

They say echoloca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-tion is the sincerest form of flattery.

Lawrence Power on Video Game Soundtracks (& Space Harrier)

Was going to pursue the topic of PayPal but got an amazing e-mail from Lawrence Power, a painter living in Berlin who has been telling me about video game soundtracks. Lawrence has just set up a website with tracks from Space Harrier in Arcade, Sega and Nintendo formats, available here.

When Lawrence first told me about video game soundtracks we ended up standing on the U8 platform at Kotbusser Tor while I said WOW WOW WOW and train after train pulled in and pulled out until at last the last train pulled in and it was not possible to go on.

Lawrence's e-mail is in fact the second installment of a saga whose first installment should have appeared on the blog weeks ago. I think it is possible for the reader to start in medias res, though, and if Installment 2 appears now Installment 1, when it appears, will be encountered first by later readers. (What follows is an excerpt from an e-mail which Lawrence resent later with additional interpolated comments, here formatted in blue.)

rant-time. ...

ahem, so here we go...

seems every 2 weeks there are some MAJOR developments in my video game
music knowledge, or lack thereof...
these are some news from the past few weeks.

I have recently got approx 800 new soundtracks from an online acquaintance
who was so nice to share his collection with me.

Those titles are from games which were playable on a series of Japanese
home computers, meaning home computer as in Commodore (not yet PC era~
1981-1982), which are called PC8801, and PC9801, manifactured by NEC, a
japanese computer company.
This doens't seem like much news i know, but the fact is that even though
this system was not popular in the western lands (or even available?), it
was probably one of the most popular systems in Japan at the time, even when
the Nintendo's Entertainment System (NES) arrived(1983 in Japan, 1985 in

What this means is that many, many games were actually released on the
PC88 or 98, and later "ported" on other consoles.
Again, not a big deal I suppose. Well, depends how you look at it.
It could be some sort of deal, and here is why I think it is, musically

Let's go back 20 some years, and say a video has just come out on a system
called the PC88 (call it "Game X" for example).
This game, has a soundtrack, composed by a musician who when/if credited
is usually referred to as a "sound engineer". Call this person " Composer

A few years later, a westerner kid gets a new game console (the NES for
The kid then gets a "brand new" game called "Game X" to play with.

If the kid in question becomes interested in the game and the makers of this
game, this kid will basically be thinking that the people who "ported" the
game unto different consoles are in fact the original creators...and until
this kids looks it up, well, that's that.

The work consisting of "translating" a game from one system to another is
usually called "porting", and music is ported as every other aspect of the
original game.

This is where i am getting confused. the original musician did create the
original music.

Of course, but the porter, even though usually keeping the essence of the
original soundtrack, sometimes changed little parts and added effects or
simply had to make certain decisions because the sound chips in both
machines were different.

If a machine or robot would have ported the games automatically, then
there would be no ethical or artistic questions.

[I love this. HD]

But when somebody has interpreted a musical piece, it will usually change,
and in most cases, well some people will give artistic credit to this.

SO, getting the original PC88-98 soundtracks are for me like hearing the
"original-original" music compositions. But maybe not, maybe the PC88-98
are also ports of an earlier arcade machines for examples...

I have a small collection of arcade sound tracks, and so far, from the
release dates, the PC88 titles seem to be older, so it maybe
that we have found our Ethiopia, but you never know.

I decided to do a little musical comparison and put the experiment online,
I'll do more from time to time, to act as examples following my rants.

The musical piece in question is from an arcade game called " Space
Harrier", developed in 1985 by the AM2 team of Sega inc., (Japan).
The music programmed in the original arcade machine was composed by Hiroshi

For my test, I chose the song called "Main Title" (or sometimes "Main BGM"
The comparison is between the original arcade version, the Sega Master
System port and the Nintendo Entertainment System port.

Click here for the little
website with mp3's.

The game was very popular in arcade halls, hence the decision was made to
port the game unto many different systems.
Wikipedia counts 16 adaptations of that game to other systems, so 16 ports
made on 16 different systems even though i personally suspect more.
Each port had music coded to play during the game of course, but usually
by someone else than Miyauchi, depending on which developing company got
the contract for the specific system.

The soundtracks usually have all the of the original songs, but the
versions are all slightly different from one to another.

Is it due to the limitation of the sound cards operating in the different
systems, or were those personal decisions made by the porters?
Or was it a little bit of both?

So today my question is: should the original composer be recognized as the
rightful owner of the original and all subsequent versions of the musical
compositions, or should the musician porting the pieces also be credited as
"porter", or "interpreter"...or however you are supposed to say this.
This I find really interesting because usually, every musician who wishes
to interpret a musical piece gets some sort of merit for his/her adaptation
of the piece in question. In the "real" music world...when it comes to
"sound engineers"...I don't know, and I suspect not many people care either.

OK, now the emulation scene info:

one article I always liked is "The History of
by "the Scribe"
it is maybe a little dry, but the facts are there, if you ever have a rainy

also, there is the Wikipedia definition of Console

that should at least explain a bit ;)

[I love this. I have never played Space Harrier but I still love it. Entry 1 will be posted later. HD]

Friday, June 15, 2007

Weber's death mask

In Max Weber, by Hans Norbert Fügen (Rowohlt 1985). Yours here (new, €7.90, used, from €1.69).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Greening of Books

Geographical distribution of copies of The Last Samurai available through Abebooks on 11 June, 2007 can be seen here.

PayPal Account of Helen DeWitt on 14 June, 2007:

These exhibits are the result of the following e-mail correspondence:

E-mail from Helen DeWitt to George Monbiot on 10 April 2007
 Mr Monbiot

I'm a writer, with a book that sold 100,000 in English and was published
in 19 countries. Is it sad that the book did not sell 1 million, like
Captain Corelli's Mandolin or White Teeth?

118 copies are available on for 50 cents and upwards. I only
get paid if a new object is manufactured and sold. On the sale of a new
object for $11.99 I get 90 cents.

I've argued to the Society of Authors that it would be better all round
if we changed the system -- if an author's cut were taken for every
secondhand online sale. If we changed the social system, so authors got
"tipped" -- you buy a book secondhand in a shop, it includes the
author's Paypal account, you recycle the object and send the author a
tip if you liked the book.

Libraries are A Good Thing from the point of view of the ozone layer,
and A Bad Thing for an author who gets something like 1p per loan. I'm
not wildly keen on writing for free, but I'm also not wildly keen on
having getting a $200K advance to have 100K physical objects pushed
into circulation. My understanding is that paper manufacture is
horribly expensive in ecological terms.

I would infinitely rather get paid for 10 sales of 1 book than for 10
sales of 1 book; I think ways could be found to recycle packaging and
cut down transport. The Society of Authors remains tamely unkeen.

I thought: Wait. I once met George Monbiot, the Ecowarrior, at the Pater
Society at BNC. I have a Connection. And as E M Forster famously said,
Only connect.

Any thoughts?

Helen DeWitt

Astoundingly swift reply from Monbiot on 17 April 2007:

Dear Helen,

I think this is a great idea. Hasn't something similar been done for artists?: every time you a painting by a living artist is resold, he gets a cut. The circulation of books is certainly more environmentally friendly than constant printing.

We do already have a system a little like this in the UK, called public lending rights: But it would surely make sense to extend this to secondhand sales. The means you propose sounds plausible.

With my best wishes, George


The Society of Authors remains unkeen; the Authors' Guild is unkeen; but two readers have bought copies of The Last Samurai directly from the author, and one has bought a copy of Your Name Here directly from the author, and the fruits of these transactions are to be seen in my Paypal account (I do have more than $36.65 to my name, you'll be happy to hear).

I don't know how to talk round the official bodies -- but I do think the system we have now is very bad for the planet, and it's indirectly also very bad for literature.

Publishers base their decision to publish new books on the sales of the last book -- that is, on sales of new books, not on readers. But hang on just a minute. Sven Birkerts recently nominated The Last Samurai for an article in the New York Review of Books on unjustly neglected fiction, excellent news -- but if you thought you liked the sound of the book, and it wasn't in bookstores (and an "unjustly neglected" work of fiction almost certainly isn't in a bookstore near you), surely you'd either go to your local library (where you can get it free) or to Amazon (where you can get it for $1.70 plus $3.99 postage). If a reader loves the book and keeps a spare copy to lend out to friends, this is VERY VERY GOOD for the planet (not only is the same physical object being used several times, it is being passed around locally, with negligible use of nonrenewable fossil fuels). But none of these ecologically virtuous readers is visible to publishers as a potential buyer of the next book. So all these green readers indirectly sabotage the writer's chance of getting the next book published. Sad but true.

I have no idea how to twist the arm of Jeff Bezos. I have no idea how to get on Abebooks' case. But surely we can do better than this system? Surely what we're up against, really, is not selfishness or greed but a sociological problem -- and the planet is paying the price.

We-ell. One way of looking at it is: the only way to get authors paid on secondhand or borrowed books is to have the system policed. We need the Public Lending Right to collect. We need Jeff Bezos to collect. We need enforcement. Question is, is this actually right? Who polices tipping? In America it's standard to tip 15%, and my mother says she now leaves 20% because the minimum wage has been outstripped by inflation, and NOBODY HAS TO DO IT. It is not standard for readers to send money directly to authors. However much you love a book, it would be very very odd to send a monetary token of your esteem to the person who wrote it. But the fact that this would be odd is in itself odd.

Giving a waitress a $2 tip for a $12 meal does not improve your chances of getting a good meal next time. Giving a waitress a $3 tip for a $12 meal does not improve your chances of getting a better meal next time. No amount of discretionary generosity to a waitress will have any effect on the quality of the next meal. And the institution of discretionary generosity to waitresses, of course, however laudable in itself, offers no obvious ecological benefit.

By way of contrast--

Contemplating the length of this post, I am reminded of J S Mill's comment early in On the Subjection of Women, that when one is arguing against what "everyone knows" one is obliged to go on at great length, because the number of unexamined assumptions is so large. The institutions which govern the sale of books and payment of authors rest on a very large number of unexamined assumptions -- assumptions with unintended consequences. I think it may be better to pursue the subject in a later post.

I comment, however, that I have linked to the satellite version of the Google Map for a reason. Suppose it were possible to locate on the planet all 100,000 copies of the English-language edition of The Last Samurai rather than the 231 on sale at Abebooks, or the 73 available on Amazon. Suppose we knew the cities in which the book was to be found, suppose some of those owners were willing to be contacted by e-mail by would-be readers of the book who lived locally. Suppose would-be sellers of the book registered with the author rather than with Mr Bezos or Mr Abebooks. If such a system could be made to work, I think we could BOTH slash the quantities of books manufactured and hauled across the planet AND reduce authors' vulnerability to profit-hungry agents and editors. I think it would be A Very Good Thing.

Any thoughts?

[PS I see that the link to Google Maps does not, in fact, bring up the satellite view, so I did not have the total artistic control I had hoped for -- if you want the satellite view you will have to manually click Satellite. If you want to see the location of the copy in Permina ND more manual clicking will be required.]

Samurai option contract

I have made a will several times in the past 11 years. It is possible to buy a preprinted form -- in Britain they are sold in W H Smith’s and Ryman’s, in America in various stationery stores. It doesn’t take much time to complete the document and get it witnessed.

It’s not possible, as far as I know, to buy a preprinted form for a film option. This causes problems in cases where the principals to the deal have no representation. I have often had difficulties because a producer or director wanted to buy an option and there was no document ready to be used: the business advisor brought in to handle the transaction started negotiating for things of no interest to either principal (ice skating rights, business-class fare to the premiere), and the deal fell apart.

Since I have recently sold an option on the film rights to The Last Samurai, I now have a document of which this may be said: it has successfully done what it was meant to do. It has transferred a specific right to a piece of intellectual property from the possessor of that right to a director who needs that right to develop a film.

If I had had this document in June 1996 I could have finished The Seventh Samurai in July 1996. I could have finished the predecessor to The Seventh Samurai in the second half of 1996. If I had had this document in January 2005 I could have finished the book I had been working on for the previous 6 months.

I will discuss some of the pitfalls of dealing with the movie business at a later date. In the meantime I have posted a copy of the contract here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

herupu herupu herupu!!!!! Why Steve Jobs needs Joel Spolsky

Joel Spolsky has just posted a comparison of the Apple and Microsoft approaches to screen rendering of type, in which he says if Apple is Target Microsoft would be Wal-Mart. Weeeeellllllll -- the problem is neither is remotely like Fog Creek. If Joel ran Apple I would know where to send my couple of hundred complaints about my Mac -- and Joel, who has written about how to achieve remarkable customer service, who has more recently written on debugging as a game of inches, would actually welcome the couple of hundred complaints, and act on them, and Apple bloody Apple would have a product accessible to the telepathically challenged.

About 6 months ago Apple clawed its way up from a 4.3% market share to a 4.7% market share!!!!!!!! Achieving 16% growth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Poor old Bill Gates would be hollow-eyed and popping Temazepam but for one little thing. All he has to do is look at what you get if you click on Kotoeri Help, seeking assistance with Japanese input, to know he is dealing with lunatics.

What you get if you click Kotoeri Help (yes, you have seen this before):

Now, not to be hasty, this is not userunfriendly. It's VERY friendly to Japanese users. It's friendly to users who are fluent in Japanese. And it's highly educational for beginners and improvers. They'll have to learn all the kanji eventually; why not start now? And it's always good to have a chance to practice the katakana -- as Katakana The Easy Way points out, students of Japanese often lag behind in their mastery of this important element of the written language.

(Would you have had the self-discipline to practice that if the Help facility had been in English? Steve Jobs knows best.)

Yes, Apple Kotoeri Help provides the novice with hours of innocent fun. And for those who want a blast from the past, there's also an online manual at the Apple website -- available for easy PDF download, it's the manual sold with the Japanese Language Kit back in 1997, when the JLK generated its very own income stream and that clinking clanking sound eased the pain of producing documentation. Now absolutely free, and you can have even more fun working out how the GUI has changed. Cheers, Apple!

And yet... And yet...

Guy Deutscher (author of The Unfolding of Language) tried to persuade me last November that I could do anything in Windows that I could do on a Mac, I should switch to a PC, and he showed me how I could type Arabic in Windows and he made it look easy. So I did actually try out a Sony Vaio, but switching between languages really wasn't as easy as it is on a Mac, and now Mellel for OS X has a new release that includes all kinds of typographical tricks previously available only in Indesign and the like -- you can change a letter's fill, change the colour, weight and style of stroke, change the colour of background, raise/lower the baseline by tiny increments (and much much much much more), all this for $49 so I don't know why the glad tidings are not being shouted from the rooftops. You can do all those things on a PC if you don't mind paying $700 or so for Indesign or Illustrator, but you still wouldn't be able to do them in Arabic or Hebrew without spending even more on add-ons, and it's all just messy and unpleasant, and soon the Sony Vaio was a roach-infested horror despite all the virus protection I thought I had installed.

And so... And so...

So it would be nice if Apple did not depend quite so heavily on the Stockholm Syndrome as the secret to customer satisfaction. It would be nice if they'd make Mr Fix-It Dictator for a Day. (Just for a day, Jobusu-san, just for a day!) Mr Fix-It:
Somehow, over the last few weeks, I've become hypercritical. I'm always looking for flaws in things, and when I find them, I become single-minded about fixing them. It's a particular frame of mind, actually, that software developers get into when they're in the final debugging phase of a new product.
(The tragic irony of it all is that this particular frame of mind has been deployed on FogBugz, a debugging program for which I have no use, rather than on OS X, which I have no way of avoiding.) Fix-It:
Over the last few weeks, I've been writing all the documentation for the next big version of FogBugz. As I write things, I try them out, either to make sure they work the way I think they should, or to get screenshots. And every hour or so, bells go off. "Wait a minute! What just happened? That's not supposed to work like that!"
(The mention of the D-word, of course, is in itself enough to drive a Mac user to drink. Something tells me Spolsky's documentation offers little of the dry humour so familiar to the unhappy Macolyte:

Because the menus and preference settings for the JLK are in Japanese, it may be difficult for a non-Japanese speaker to identify the appropriate selections to make. The steps below will identify the appropriate selections with graphical clues that allow a non-Japanese speaker to correctly select the Kana Keyboard and thereby enable one-keystroke Katakana input.
-- a philosophy Apple thought good enough for its users in 1993 and has seen no reason to change in the last 14 years. (It's the use of the word 'may', of course, that's so delicious: non-Japanese-speaking telepaths will have no trouble at all.))

Well, enough of this rant. If Lisa the wheeler dealer could persuade Steve 'It Ain't Broke' Jobs to talk to Spolsky Apple could probably make a Great Leap Forward -- not the kind of GLF that takes a 4.7% market share up to a niche-dominating 5.2%, but the kind of GLF that would turn Apple from a plucky underdog to a serious contender for the nontelepathic dollar.

Meanwhile I have written a guide to inputting Japanese in Mellel, including more general assistance with using Japanese in OS X. Yours here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

tone or technique

My mother has just written an e-mail in response to Hassan's description of the concert by Lortie, which I sent her in an e-mail some time ago. She is preparing to move into a house at a place called Leisure World, which somehow conjures up a combination of The Stepford Wives and Westworld (my mother will either be turned into a robot or killed by one) but I believe is perfectly pleasant.

... the long piece you sent by Hassan about his reaction to the recital by Louis Lortie was simply enchanting. I am having anxiety attacks about being so out of touch with you in the midst of this chaotic move, so am shoving everything aside for the moment to respond to this amazing account of his response to this performance. What is particularly interesting to me is the perennial issue of describing a physical action using language. The conversation he had with the man he eventually sat next to was fascinating. He quoted that guy's saying that good tone is the key to proper piano technique, when it seems to me that only through proper technique do you arrive at good tone. Mrs. Gunn was a fanatic about good tone, and looking back at it, I feel a very beautiful tone resulted from her emphasis, but that it was achieved by much tension and forcing. Am pretty sure that was why Ann's master teacher, Mistislav Munch, had her do months of nothing but the double thirds etude with emphasis on different members of the groups of four sixteenth notes. It was a way to trick the body into producing the tone without forcing.

[Ann is the pianist Ann Schein, with whom my mother shared lessons for many years.]

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Ingrid showed this extraordinary sculpture of her mother, Elsa, at the London Art Fair in January. I've asked her to do one of me; she says

I have a new idea about our casting. It would be great if we did it as the lost & found\shelves project in Lietzen\ Petersdorf this month and showed it at the opening 1st of July. What do you think?

Off to Naunynstrasse now for talks about talks. More on Elsa here.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Nothing to do with Tom Cruise

The director Tom Dey has optioned The Last Samurai and plans to make a film of it. (I am rather hoping he will persuade Kurosawa Productions to give permission to use the book's original title, The Seventh Samurai.) Dey would like to use animations of scripts such as are to be seen at Kanji Café or Arabic Typography -- if you know Greek, Arabic, Hebrew or Japanese, and also know your way around a program that can achieve these effects, he would love to see a demo. (E-mails sent c/o Paperpools will reach him.)

My hunch is it is easier for someone who already knows one or more of the languages to get up to speed with the software than for a Flash wizard to bluff his way through even one of these languages. There's not much point in putting random letters or characters up on the screen, what one wants is something that enables the audience to replicate the experience of the child, the moment when he suddenly thinks: I can do this!

1 degree of separation from Lisa

My dear dear friend Alex Frey has been telling me about the extremely fabulous Lisa, who does highpowered matchmaking among companies. He also tells me she loved The Last Samurai.

"She should find me an agent!" I say. "Tell her to find me an agent!"

Alex seems not to see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Lisa to match a great writer of our time with a great agent of our time. He says Lisa does not find people jobs.

Alex and I then have a conversation about God. Alex believes in the existence of God. I believe in the existence of Lisa. I also believe I know what would count as existence or non-existence of Lisa, and I believe I know what would count as evidence one way or the other. I do not know what is meant to count in the case of God. This seems too much like religion by tombola. Everyone pulls something different out of the tombola; what matters is not WHAT is pulled out of the tombola, the important thing is pulling SOMETHING out of the tombola. The important thing is to believe in SOMETHING. If the time spent in schools on English orthography were devoted to philosophy, might we see a world where as many people thought logically as now spell "receive", "separate", "siege" and "seize" correctly?

I remember a story about Bertrand Russell. Russell gave a lecture on the history of philosophy to a general audience, which included a reference to the cosmological theory that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. Russell pointed out that the theory had a problem: what was the turtle standing on? An old lady at the back shook her head in violent disagreement. She came up to Russell after the talk. "You think you're very clever, young man. But it's turtles all the way down!"

When one deals with the publishing industry one finds oneself so often in the sort of discussion where "turtles all the way down!" is brought out in triumph. A hyperheadhunter, I think, might find a head which did not do this.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Gunslinger gesucht

DeWitt and Gridneff are looking for a fistful of dollars, or ein paar Dollar mehr -- yep, we're looking for an agent. The opening chapters of Your Name Here are due to appear in the next issue of n+1. There's still the little matter of a publisher.

Deutschepost misdelivers 50% of all post (only the other day I received package for Jacques Dewitte of 5 Fidicinstrasse). T-Com is on strike so the phone is also kaput. Tim Semple: Helen, you haven't harnessed the power of the Internet!

The Force is with me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Alex Frey and Tristram Shandy

An Air Force officer recently back from Iraq came up to Berlin for a few days. The blog immediately took on a Shandean impossibility, in which 10 hours' solid writing might do justice to, say, the wealth of incident in a single hour. I blamed Alex Frey. Alex has an inexhaustible supply of stories about remarkable people; they deserve a wider public; each day the blog fell further and further behind -- and what was worse, I knew Alex knew it. When a man spells the names of the people who feature in his anecdotes you know he is checking up on you; when he starts introducing anecdotes with the sinister phrase "This would be good for your blog" you know he is not impressed with what you have achieved so far.

The fact is, of course, that this is a man who needs a blog of his own. In the meantime I thought of the next best thing: he should write a guest post for MY blog. THIS would be the way to catch up on all the stories about Bernstein, the Queen, Princess Anne, the Queen's chaplain, Garrison Keillor, Oscar Levant--

I was sent drafts of the guest post yesterday. Halfway through the afternoon we met briefly at Yorckschlößchen, Alex on his way to Spandau to buy a new set of tails for his concert in Mexico. (The post had not yet been published.) 'Is it OK?' asks Alex. 'You don't think there's too much about Montezuma's Revenge?' 'Oh no no no no no,' I say. But I am lazy about publishing, the day drifts by -- and in the morning I find that all this procrastination actually worked! Alex has started a blog of his own! And he has launched it with the guest post for this blog! Only minus Montezuma's Revenge! So you can read it scatologically here or unscatologically there -- the choice is yours.

Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Alexander Frey.

This, believe it or not, is my first blog. I’ve read blogs before, usually written by friends of mine. But most others I’ve seen wear down my patience because they seem to drone on about inane things.

For example, a famous violinist wonders in her blog how elevators seem to know whether to go up or down.

If I were so inclined, I might ask how a solid ball of lint winds up in one’s belly button at the end of the day.

The mind boggles. Or, should I say, bloggles. Hopefully I have more relevant wanderings to explore.

With that inane and self-serving preamble I’ve just written, let me start.

Here beginneth the blog:

I am to fly to Mexico this coming weekend to conduct a marvelous orchestra. I performed with them a few months ago as piano soloist in the Vivaldi Concerto in A-minor, followed immediately by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue-the quintessential American piano concerto.

My trip in March was memorable for two reasons: the first being that I enjoyed making music with this great orchestra; the second being that I came down with the so-called well-known intestinal illness referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge”, with the typical symptoms of severe cramps accompanied by diarrhea and nausea or both (I experienced the first two). Because of my current marital problems, I can’t help but wonder if Montezuma was a woman.

Anyway, the only time I wasn’t crapping on the toilet was when I was sitting on the piano bench rehearsing or performing, which was very merciful indeed. The calming effects of music. Shortly before my first performance, as I was changing into my tails (or “frack” in some countries), I received an urgent signal from my intestines telling me that I must run to the bathroom very quickly, but I didn’t quite make it to the toilet in time. After cleaning up the mess, I changed into my concert clothes and walked to the stage entrance. The concerti went well and I walked back onstage to play an encore.

I know I’ve given a really good performance when I feel as if I’ve gone through a catharsis. That first Mexican concert proved indeed to be especially cathartic because I once again ran into my dressing room and flew to the loo. This time, my ass arrived punctually on the toilet seat where I remained for the entire second half of the concert which consisted of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony. Because the dressing rooms are right behind the stage (in my case, behind the entire brass section), the rumblings of my bowels were mercifully covered up by the fortissimos of the trumpets and trombones. I must admit that the Prokofiev sounded especially wonderful in the bathroom. Bathrooms are known for their fine acoustics.
Helen DeWitt invited me to write this guest blog. It’s her fault, really. Helen, as we all know, is the brilliant author of The Last Samurai. She is also my neighbor and great conversation companion.

We meet almost everyday in the well-known Yorckschloesschen, a legendary restaurant know for its artistic cliental. The place is modeled after an establishment that one might find in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It has a wonderful outdoor beer garden where we all sit during warm weather. Since Helen has begun frequenting the restaurant, she has brought some of her writing colleagues in tow. An interesting bunch, for sure. I took Garrison Keillor there for lunch once.

My father was also an excellent writer, as seen in the legal briefs he authored as well as the letters he wrote. He read voraciously, often reading 3 books at the same time, their pages bent in the corners and containing copious handwritten notes in the margins, reflecting Dad’s musings on certain passages, or cross-referencing other books and thoughts.

My father was an ardent fan of Ernest Hemingway, having read everything that the mercurial author had written as well as every available Hemingway biography. Some months after Dad’s death, I visited the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana where Hemingway had lived for awhile. I took the wrought-iron elevator to the 5th floor where he resided in various rooms at different times. One can stay in any of those rooms as a hotel guest. I honored my father by wandering around the place and soaking up the atmosphere. I felt that he was there, too, enjoying the experience with me.

In Cuba, the average salary for a citizen is about 5 to 15 dollars per month. However, I am convinced that two of the wealthiest people in the country are the old lady and old man (not the Old Man and the Sea ) who are the dedicated pianists in the lobby of the Ambos Mundos. Each day, their tip glass is filled to the brim with dollars. Even though much of Havana is poor, the populace does receive excellent and free health care. Many of their doctors go to the United States or Europe for their medical studies and residencies, and then return to Cuba to work in the hospitals. I’m told that the University in Havana is superb. Certainly the music is, heard live in every bar found on almost all the street corners, It’s a pity that the Bush administration doesn’t want Americans to travel to Cuba. It’s not actually illegal to visit the country. What is illegal is spending American money there. But those dollars are the joy of every pianist who performs during the days and mysterious nights in the lobby of the Ambos Mundos.

Alexander Frey

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Third Arm

Johanna Thompson tells me she has seen Automatenhilfe in Frankfurt and in Friedrichstrasse. We were arranging to meet an exhibition last week; she sent me an e-mail about Stelarc who does work on zombies and cyborgs:

Stelarc is very funny, an Australian artist, who has the most amazing
laughter I ever heard....
he used to suspend himself between high buildings using meathooks, but later
got into using technology to achieve closeness without proximity, a very
attractive concept I remember thinking.
This was in the 90s, maybe times have changed and cyborg-expectations have
been modyfied and became Automatenhilfe. What a surprising development, in a
Here is Stelarc's site
I don't know why I keep talking about him...he became important to me a pet rock...